Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1987 Jul 23 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [120/479-484]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2445
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (arms control), Industry, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Local government finance, Community charge ("poll tax"), Science & technology
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Prime Minister


Q1. Mr. Gregory

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Gregory

Will the Prime Minister encourage local authorities this summer to put their services out to competitive tender, thereby securing savings of up to 30 per cent. in place of municipal Socialism?

The Prime Minister

Yes. As my hon. Friend knows, we are introducing legislation on this matter. It is a matter of regret that more local authorities have not taken this course of action, because had they done so they would have had substantial savings and a much more efficient service. We shall always encourage local authorities to produce services most efficiently. The local authority Audit Commission has made many proposals and has shown the scope for saving money.

Mr. Hattersley

Can the Prime Minister assure us that this morning's Cabinet meeting took an unequivocal decision not to reduce public expenditure in real terms next year?

The Prime Minister

We had an excellent Cabinet meeting this morning. We issued a statement as follows:

“The Cabinet had its usual July discussion of public expenditure today. It reaffirmed the policy” ——

[Hon. Members: “Reading.” ] Indeed, for the sake of greater accuracy. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman would want that.

“It reaffirmed the policy that public expenditure should continue to take a declining share of national income, as set out in the last Public Expenditure White Paper,” et cetera, et cetera.
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Mr. Hattersley

Does the Prime Minister not know that exactly two hours ago journalists were briefed that this morning the Cabinet decided to maintain the public expenditure planning totals, which amounts to a cut next year in real terms? Why does she not have the guts to tell that to the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister

I am telling the right hon. Gentleman precisely what happened. Why does he not have the guts to accept it?

Mr. Michael Marshall

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing anxiety about reports that Her Majesty's Government have failed to reach agreement on an interdepartmental basis on the budget for space expenditure and that the proposal of the British National Space Centre for increased space activities will therefore be rejected? Does that not call into question our future commitment to the European Space Agency and to the BNSC?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that it does. It is quite correct that we have not been able to find the considerable amount of extra expenditure that was requested. As my hon. Friend is aware, we spend through the taxpayer some £4.5 billion on research and development. We are not able to find any more resources. Therefore, it would mean a switch of resources from one research or technology development to another. My colleagues felt that they could not make that switch and therefore we shall continue our subscription to the European Space Agency, but at present we are not able to find more money. I hope that the private sector, if it is interested in the results from such research, will come forward with considerable resources.

Q2. Mr. Meale

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Meale

Will the Prime Minister [Hon. Members: “Reading.” ]

Mr. Foulkes

For greater accuracy.

Mr. Speaker

Try to paraphrase, please.

Mr. Meale

Will the Prime Minister extend her pledge and give a categorical guarantee that she will veto any attempt to introduce VAT on bus and rail fares or on newspapers?

The Prime Minister

I answered that question in detail last week. I am not quite sure to which of the three aspects the hon. Gentleman is referring. He is probably referring to the proposal before the Commission that there should be some approximation of value added tax. That proposal could be passed only by the unanimous vote of all countries.—[Interruption.] It is not a question of vetoing—we should vote against it. [Interruption.] That is not a veto; it is a vote against. A veto is the phrase used for the Luxembourg compromise—[Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, the Opposition seem to know the answer.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that any agreement on intermediate nuclear weapons must not only be properly verifiable, but must ensure that NATO can deter aggression at whatever level it may occur?

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The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend has said. Any agreement on intermediate nuclear weapons must be thoroughly verifiable, so that we can see that people are carrying out what they say they will do. Of course, it would have to be phased, and that, too, would have to be verifiable. We must also examine it in relation to the state of other defences, particularly chemical and conventional weapons.

Mr. Steel

During her summer holidays, will the Prime Minister try to work out how she will explain to people serving in Her Majesty's forces that if, in the next few years, they are stationed in England they will pay no poll tax, but if they are transferred to Scotland they will pay such a tax without any corresponding increase in income? During the summer, will she try to find anyone outside the ranks of the Government who supports this ludicrous measure and report such a discovery to the House?

The Prime Minister

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is very much in favour of the community charge in Scotland. He knows full well why the Bill was brought forward in Scotland. Scotland has already suffered from the effect of a rating revalation, with disastrous consequences, such that we had to bring forward that legislation first. Legislation for England and Wales will follow.

Mr. Churchill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Gorbachev 's acceptance of the double zero option with regard to intermediate and shorter-range nuclear missiles is most welcome? Will she accept that it is almost entirely due to her determination and steadfastness, and to that of our ally, President Reagan, that this satisfactory state of affairs is being brought about and that it owes nothing to the activities of the Opposition, let alone the so-called peace movement?

The Prime Minister

It is reported that the Soviet Union is about to accept the global zero option for intermediate nuclear weapons. Its proposals will be tabled, it is expected, in Geneva this afternoon. Until they are tabled, we do not know whether the option has been accepted with any conditions attached. If it is without conditions, we warmly welcome it.

As my hon. Friend is aware, I referred to this matter in the House on 30 April, when I said:

“We would prefer the Soviet Union to agree to a global zero-zero on intermediate nuclear weapons. So far it has been unwilling to do that, but that is what we shall continue to ask for.” —[Official Report, 30 April 1987; Vol. 115, c. 410.] We shall indeed welcome it if the Soviet Union accepts it without conditions.

Q3. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Bidwell

Would the Prime Minister like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) on his honesty, and good fortune, in disclosing to the Daily Telegraph that he stands to have the rates on his ancestral pile reduced from £2,000 to £300 under her new poll tax?

The Prime Minister

People who are paying heavy rates, unless they are within a very heavy spending local authority, will indeed gain. The people who will suffer from a community charge will be those who are under very [column 482]high-spending authorities. That is one of the purposes, but only one, of having a community charge, so that local authorities will be accountable to all their constituents and so that their constituents can judge whether the services are delivered efficiently.

Q4. Mr. Favell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Favell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today in the north people are looking to her for a poll tax to promote initiative and enterprise? For years, Left-wing councils have been promising that their high-spending, high-rating policies will protect jobs and services. Is not the reverse patently the case?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I believe that a number of small firms are precluded from starting up in some of the areas where they are most needed because of the high rating policies of those local authorities. One of the purposes of introducing a community charge is to get a unified business rate, which will be a great advantage to those areas that need more private sector business. It is interesting that there have been record numbers of inquiries to our small firms centres about starting up small businesses. It may be that the expectation of a unified business charge is helping people to come forward.

Miss Mowlam

Will the Prime Minister please consider whether any of the proposed cuts in the 20 million tonnes of steel from the European Steel Community production should take place in the British Steel Corporation, in view of the fact that we have had higher percentage deductions in staffing and production than any other European steel producer?

The Prime Minister

That depends on the year from which one starts, as it always does. Under this Government, the British Steel Corporation has gone from a deficit of about £600 million a year to a considerable profit, and it is now working well. We shall have to work with the European Community on steel quotas and we shall, of course, do battle for our steel workers.

EC (Budgetary Control)

Q5. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Prime Minister if she will invite the European Council to secure a report from the Commission on the operation and effectiveness of the strict budgetary controls agreed by the Council on 4 December 1984 before the Council gives further consideration to the Commission's proposals for extra funding linked to strict budgetary controls: and if she will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

The Commission reported on budget discipline in its two February papers on future financing of the Community. In the light of discussion at the June European Council it has undertaken to bring forward further proposals shortly. I made it clear that before the question of increasing Community resources can be addressed we must agree on effective and binding controls over Community spending, particularly agricultural spending.

Mr. Taylor

As the last round of “effective, binding controls” produced, instead of restraint, a series of [column 483]accounting devices, of which even Liverpool councillors would be ashamed, and an escalation in the cost of food dumping and food destruction to £240 million a week, with the Soviet Union and the Mafia being major beneficiaries, will my right in saying hon. Friend agree to stand firm in December and, instead of giving more money to the uncontrollable CAP, propose that we should return agricultural responsibility to member states?

The Prime Minister

I confess that I have some degree of sympathy with some of my hon. Friend's points—as one usually has. He is quite right in saying that we did not get a binding arrangement for financial discipline on the last occasion, and we must have it on this occasion. I do not think that we can abolish the common agricultural policy. There may have to be a degree of national financing, but it would have to be within a Community framework. My hon. Friend will know—he knows the common agricultural policy very well—that if one looks back to the treaty there is absolutely nothing wrong with the common agricultural policy. It is the way in which it has been operated in practice that we wish to cure.

Several Hon. Members


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Mr. Speaker

I warn the House that this is not an open question.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the common agricultural policy a disaster? The Prime Minister makes a great pretence of being concerned about the complete lack of budgetary control, but will not the farm agreement cost this country £600 million this year and many more millions of pounds next year? As we have such a huge balance of trade deficit in manufactured goods, will the Prime Minister explain to the House clearly and succinctly what benefits we get from the Common Market, because it costs about £500 million to £1 billion to be a member of this absurd organisation?

The Prime Minister

No. I think that the original reason why we went in, and it was agreed by most hon. Members on both sides of the House that it was wise to go in, was a political one—that we should be part of the European Community. The Community's original purpose was to ensure not only that there was an Economic Community but that nations which had hitherto fought one another should in future work together in peace and for greater prosperity for them all.